Historic Place Category 1
Corner of Bridle Path Road and Tunnel Road (State Highway 74)
Pt Lot 3 DP 2907 (NZ Gazette 1963, p.665), Canterbury Land District
Extent of Registration
Extent includes part of the land described as Pt Lot 3 DP 2907, Canterbury Land District, and the building known as the Lyttelton Road Tunnel Administration Building thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. It is bounded by enclosing roads on three sides and on the fourth, southern side the access bridge and an extension of the line from it to the motorway forms the final boundary line. Other items within this boundary, including the Lyttelton-Woolston pipeline and block valve, telemetry data communication pole and associated cabling, are excluded from the registration. Also excluded from the registration is the canopy which extends across the road and formerly covered the toll booths, as this is planned for removal in 2008
The Lyttelton Road Tunnel Administration Building, built in 1963-4 at 1 Bridle Path Road in Christchurch, is a significant work in the development of New Zealand architecture. The building was located at the western end of the newly constructed road tunnel linking Christchurch to the port of Lyttelton. It was built to house the staff who controlled all aspects of the tunnel's operations, including the toll booths across the motorway. By 1979 the collection of tolls ceased and the booths were removed.
The Christchurch Lyttelton Road Tunnel Authority commissioned the building and considered the tunnel as a prime point of entry to Canterbury. The Authority wanted a grand, impressive building which would reflect this status and also include some symbolic references to its location at the Christchurch end of the Bridle Path, the route the early settlers took from Lyttelton after their arrival from England in 1850. Canterbury's founding settlers had initially arrived in four ships and this building's design was conceived as a symbol of a 'fifth ship' that was 'moored' alongside the road. The architect Peter Beaven created a monumental structure which provides a vertical accent alongside the horizontal motorway.
The structure, formed to suggest the tub shape of a ship, is built on bulb pile foundations inserted deeply into the rock beneath the fill added to form the new roadway into the tunnel. These foundations are left exposed, to form a large undercroft to the structure around which the low planting of the immediate environs is indicative of a small metaphorical lake in which the ship is moored. It has a frame of columns and double beams which support the cantilevered top section of two floors and a penthouse. Fairfaced concrete and glass enclose the building, with glass partitions frequently used to divide the interior. The open main staircase rising through the centre of the building has a monumental open form, providing a vertical element which contrasts with the overall horizontal emphasis of the structure.
Beaven's design reflects the Modern Movement's principle of form following function and also illustrates Beaven's idiosyncratic and innovative approach to design through the inclusion of symbolism and regional references. It is an important example of Beaven's contribution to the distinctive character of New Zealand architecture.
The building of the Lyttelton Road Tunnel Administration Building, one of many major public works undertaken through New Zealand in the 1960s, was of major historical significance to the South Island and to Canterbury. A direct link from the plains to the port had been sought since the arrival of the first Canterbury settlers in December, 1850 and completion of the tunnel was a milestone in the province's transport history. The necessary Tunnel Administration Building was a key component of this project, is the most dominating visible feature and is of equal historic importance.
The use of this road route to Lyttelton has increased over the years since 1964 and reflects the reduction of dependence on rail transport, a trend which has been seen nation wide.
AESTHETIC SIGNIFICACE OR VALUE:
The building has aesthetic values as it is admirably placed in relation to the hills and the roadway, its monumental forms and detailing providing a striking yet harmonious element in the landscape.
ARCHITECTURAL SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUE:
Since the time of its completion it has been acclaimed as a major New Zealand architectural monument with inclusion in the various histories of the country's architectural heritage. In the recently published book Exquisite Apart: 100 years of New Zealand Architecture, Tony van Part states that Beaven represented an alternative tradition in modern architecture, 'one which celebrated spontaneity and intuition, rejecting universalising theories for a more personal, individual and idiosyncratic architecture.' Dr Ian Lochhead, Associate Professor of Art History at Canterbury University wrote ten years ago that the Tunnel building 'demonstrated that a modern New Zealand architecture was capable of receiving strong regional inflections and could carry a powerful emotional charge. The overtly metaphorical content of Beaven's 'fifth ship' also challenges the formalist, selfreferential character of the modern movement'.
The Lyttelton Road Tunnel Administration Building is of outstanding significance in New Zealand's architectural development. Its special qualities were formally recognized by the award of the NZIA's Gold Medal Award in 1966.
SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUE:
The Road Tunnel Building has become an iconic feature of Christchurch and the route to Lyttelton for the people of Canterbury. Because of the traditional acknowledgement of the historic importance of those 'First Four Ships', the symbolism of this 'fifth ship has struck a cord, its architectural style and form are appreciated and it has become one of the area's most widely revered structures.
Summary of Assessed Criteria
Section 23 (2) Assessment:
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
The Road Tunnel Administration Building was a major element in the construction project which achieved provision of the road tunnel access to the port of Lyttelton. This was one of the many major public works development projects undertaken in the 1960s when New Zealand was expanding its economy. Although the need for a more direct link from the plains through the Port Hills was recognized from the 1850s, it was a century before this was achieved. Rail transport had carried most freight and passengers over this period then the advent of motor vehicles had gradually increased the need for adequate roads. The volume of freight carrying vehicles that now use this route illustrates the gradual decline in the use of the rail network. This decline has been a feature of New Zealand's transport history over recent decades.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:
Peter Beaven, whose architectural career has already spanned 50 years, will certainly continue to be acknowledged as one of the outstanding contributors to New Zealand's architecture in the second half of the 20th century. He has been the recipient of a number of awards from his peers. The special quality and value of his work are also recognised by both the general public and the learned published writers of our architectural history. The Lyttelton Road Tunnel Authority Building, 1964, was a major early work which immediately gave him increased status and respect.
His approach to the modern movement was idiosyncratic and in this building the idea of imbuing it with symbolic regional references was innovative and highly successful.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:
Local people who pass it, either occasionally or frequently, hold the building in high esteem. This is because of its architectural values as well as its symbolic references. It is also well known and highly regarded throughout New Zealand, particularly by people with an interest in architecture.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:
The building, a special feature in the development of New Zealand's unique architectural heritage, is of outstanding quality. It has been widely recognised.
When it received the Gold Medal from the NZIA in 1966 the jury stated that it was 'a prestige building of great importance, highly emotional in its design and the response it evokes'. They considered that there was an, 'authentic New Zealand spirit in the vigour of this complex building' and they were impressed by the 'highly imaginative quality' evident throughout its design.
Although it was 'architecture conscious', with Beaven appreciative of the international work of contemporary and previous architects, this powerful building's expressive form is infused with his particular, distinctive individuality. The embodiment of symbolic historic references have made this a specific Canterbury building which could not have had relevance elsewhere in the country, yet it is appreciated nation wide.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places:
A Road Tunnel Administration Building has not been required elsewhere in New Zealand and the Christchurch example is unique. Built in 1964 with cost cutting measures restricting the tunnel's internal dimensions, the need continues for staff to deal with breakdowns, carbon monoxide expulsion, emergency events and traffic flow issues. Tolls are collected for crossing the Auckland Harbour and Tauranga Bridges, but there is no need for a substantial structure like this one to service them. Similarly, the older and shorter road tunnel which gives access to Milford Sound required no administration building to serve either a practical function or provide a monumental gateway to the area.
SUMMARY OF SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUES:
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, e, g and j.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category I historic place.
Peter Beaven's design for the Lyttelton Road Tunnel Administration Building is a significant work in the development of New Zealand architecture. It reflects the Modern Movement's principle of form following function and also illustrates Beaven's idiosyncratic and innovative approach to design through the inclusion of symbolism and regional references. The building is unique in both style and function.
The Lyttelton Road Tunnel Administration Building was completed in May 1964. The distinctive Modernist structure was built to provide toll booths and accommodation for the service and administration staff for the recently completed tunnel. The tunnel (completed in February, 1964) was constructed to provide shorter road access between the Port Lyttelton and the Canterbury Plains. The building's unique architectural form and styling have been acknowledged since it was constructed, earning its status as one of Christchurch's most iconic buildings.
Christchurch's links to the port of Lyttelton were problematic from the earliest days of the province's settlement, with the Port Hills a significant barrier to access. When the issue of providing direct access to the port was discussed in 1851 the possibility of a road tunnel was considered and rejected, in part because of fear that horses would catch cold coming into a cold tunnel from the hot plains. Development of the road over Evans Pass was the first solution, greatly improved when the rail link via a tunnel was completed in 1867. Although better roads had been constructed and were well used, the growth of road transport increased the need for a road tunnel. As early as 1919 an Australian firm prepared plans for a road tunnel at an estimated cost of £700,000, but was unable to convince authorities that this was a necessity. However, by 1956 it was agreed that the need was now urgent and it was time for action. The Christchurch Lyttelton Road Tunnel Authority was set up by an Act of Parliament to construct a tunnel and organize the collection of tolls to cover the costs. Work on the 1.9 kilometre tunnel began in 1961 and it was completed and formally opened on 27 February, 1964.
At the Christchurch portal of the tunnel an administration building with adjoining toll plaza was required to serve as the nerve centre for the whole operation. The Authority wanted the administrative building and toll booths to not only serve this essential function but also to have a 'monumental appearance and some symbolism to underline the historic access used by the pioneers to give access to the Plains at this point in the hills'. The end of the Bridle Path, the most direct route historically taken by newly arrived settlers journeying from the port, is the site of the tunnel's entrance at the head of the Heathcote Valley. The Authority also recognised the Christchurch tunnel end as an important point of entry to the city, like Christchurch Airport, and wished it to reflect this status by the grandeur of its form and design. Architect Peter Beaven, who was commissioned in 1961 to plan the building, was chosen because of his already established reputation as a skilled designer with strong regional affinities.
Beaven's design fulfilled the Authority's wishes with a building that met all the requirements of the brief and the building was immediately acclaimed for its dramatic, evocative appearance. He interpreted the symbolism the Authority had suggested by an imaginative building in a shiplike form which he used to represent a 'fifth ship' as an addition to the 'First Four Ships' which had brought the initial group of Canterbury settlers to the province in December, 1850. ‘Moored' in this hilly setting beside a ‘wharf', the motorway approaching the tunnel portal, with the tollbooths under their canopy providing the linkage between the two as a symbolic ‘mooring line'. The building embodied the concept of the journey undertaken by the founding settlers and also referred to the adjoining Bridle Path.
Covering 117,500 square feet and costing £115,000 to build, the administration building was intended to be grand in scale, bold in appearance and constructed of ‘good materials'. When there was some criticism of the possible costs compared with the original estimate by the Ministry of Works, Beaven responded that the Ministry had ‘no idea of what was wanted and at the time a tin shed might have been considered appropriate'.
Apart from the essential purpose of collecting tolls, the administration building had wide ranging functions. Offices and staff facilities were an important component. Because the tunnel was open 24 hours daily, a staff of 6 supervisors and 21 tunnel control officers were employed to cover the three shifts every day. The building also housed electrical equipment for toll registration and the various aspects of tunnel control such as traffic lights, carbon monoxide analysis, etc. Garaging was needed for breakdown and patrolling vehicles and a workshop for their maintenance. Beaven organised these varied functions on the building's three separate levels, a very practical planning approach which is clearly visible from the exterior, illustrating that ‘form followed function'.
The Tunnel Administration Building was completed in May, 1964 shortly after the opening of the tunnel. It operated to everyone's satisfaction and the special qualities of its design were recognized nationally when it was awarded a gold medal by the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1966. Its special qualities were also identified to an international audience when it was included in a 1965 issue of The Architectural Review, the leading British architectural magazine. The payment of tolls ceased in 1979, just 15 years after the tunnel was completed, making the toll plaza itself redundant. While the toll booths themselves have been removed to free traffic flow, the canopy, an integral element of the original design, still remains. In 2005 it was proposed that it be removed because of its structural weakness and the potential danger it posed to the traffic passing beneath it. Strengthening the canopy was estimated to be a costly exercise, requiring considerable modifications to its existing appearance. Public opposition following publicity about the proposal led to negotiations with the owners but independent funds could not be raised for retaining and conserving the canopy. It is to be removed in 2008.
The original function of the building has continued, but with space available a tenant has leased half of the complex. Ownership was transferred from the disestablished ChristchurchLyttelton Road Tunnel Authority to Transit New Zealand who recognise its special qualities and accept that it should be well maintained. Staff at the building are responsible for the safeguarding of this section of State Highway 74. They maintain the tunnel, provide immediate response to incidents, monitor traffic and escort heavy vehicles using the tunnel.
The road tunnel, which has provided the long desired direct access from the plains to the port, carries a high volume of traffic every day. The average daily figure for 2004 was 9490 vehicles, with yearly variables occurring according to the intensity of the port's use. It is one of the country's major routes and is an important landmark in New Zealand's transport history, its use reflecting the decreased emphasis on the rail network. The Tunnel Administration Building beside the Christchurch portal was a major element of the whole project from the beginning, and will continue into the future as a notable architectural, symbolic and historic feature.
PETER BEAVEN (1925)
Peter Beaven, a Canterbury born architect, has always had a great respect for his home environment and this is reflected in his work. Educated at Christ's College, surrounded by a group of Christchurch's most significant heritage buildings, he embarked on a career as an architect and went to London for further training in the 1950s. Back in Canterbury his focus was initially on domestic architecture and he came to public attention with his modernist office block for the Canterbury Building Society, Manchester Street, Christchurch (195960). His work was sufficiently acknowledged at this date for him to be recognized by the Authority as the appropriate architect to design the Administration Building and this building, a milestone in his career, identified him nationally as a major architect. His admiration of the designs by Canterbury's founding High Victorian Gothic architect, Benjamin Mountfort, had an increasing impact on him as his years of practice progressed. This was first evidenced in the way his Manchester Unity building of 1964 responded to its urban context with modern Gothic references, and was climaxed at his Chateau Commodore Hotel (1974) where full homage is paid to Mountfort. Many architectural awards have followed for both large commercial structures and for domestic work where he has shown a particular interest in the creation of ‘village' complexes. In 2003 he was recipient of the NZIA gold medal, the highest honour bestowed by the New Zealand Institute of Architects for an outstanding contribution to the practice of architecture. Although on occasion there has been minor criticism of some of his more recent buildings, the still practicing architect retains the status and respect deserved by one of the most significant contributors to New Zealand's architecture.
- Designed: 1962 (circa) - 1963 (circa)
- Original Construction: 1963 (circa) - 1964 (circa)
- Modification - Removal of toll booths: post-1979
- Modification: 2004 (circa)
Frame: Concrete columns and double beams resting on bulb piles and pads.
Floors: a combination of precast, prestressed and in situ concrete with lino, vinyl and cork finishes.
Ceilings: Fairfaced concrete with insulating cork panels between beams.
Door and window frames: Aluminium. Doors sheathed with pine board.
Flashings and penthouse sheathing: Copper.
Penthouse deck: Asphalt.
- New Zealand Institute of Architects Journal (NZIA),Administration Building: Christchurch-Lyttelton Road Tunnel Authority, December 1964, 31 No. 11. pp. 334-339.
- Peter Shaw, A History of New Zealand Architecture, Auckland, 1997
- Charles Walker (ed), Exquisite Apart: 100 years of New Zealand Architecture, Auckland, 2005.
- Robyn Burgess, Lyttelton Road Tunnel Authority Building Heritage Assessment. Opus International Consultants Ltd, Prepared for Transit New Zealand, October 2003.
- Christchurch City Council,Research Files from Urban design and Heritage team, Planning and Strategy Unit.
- Adrienne Dempsey, 'Christchurch-Lyttelton Road Tunnel Administration Building' in Peter Beaven Architect, Buildings and Projects. Exhibition booklet for School of Fine Arts Gallery, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, August 1995.
- Home and Building,Administration building and Toll Plaza, June 1965, pp.70-71.
NZIA Gold Award Winner 1966 and 25 Year Award 1999
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Southern region office.
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